Fossils and Favorites

- by Elaine Isaak

My current work in progress (WIP, for the unintiated) involves taking parts of two previous drafts together with new material and massaging them into a single, smooth and hopefully entertaining complete book.  It’s a different form of revision from what I’ve done before. 

Generally, one starts at the beginning of a completed draft, reads through, moves things around, perhaps adds or subtracts.  In this case, I’m moving back and forth between writing new scenes, and drawing material from the old drafts.  This method involves acute examples of two issues in revision:  fossils and favorites.

Fossils (thanks to Neil Gaiman for the hady term) occur when you have a bit from a previous version that doesn’t actually make sense in the new draft, and thus sticks out.  It may be that a certain incident was cut complete, but is referred to later on by a character.  Or perhaps some detail of backstory changed at the beginning, but wasn’t carried through consistently. It’s easy to miss this stuff after the number of times you re-read the work, often with the original vision of the book in the back of your head. 

It can be especially hard to chip out the fossils that have emotional resonance.  In the first version of my novel, The Singer’s Crown, one of my secondary characters ends up killing his father-in-law.  But that subplot was cut from the new version-and so I had to leave behind not only the references to it, but also the emotional after-effects of the moment which, as you might imagine, lingered for the character and for his wife.

Favorites are an issue with every revision, but even more so when drawing from an earlier version.  Some scenes/characters/moments we just love.  We’re proud of them, we polish them, they even become touchstones for what the whole book means to its creator.  We’d very much like to share them with our readers.  Unfortunately, they just don’t fit any more.  The scene is lovely, but leads outside the plot.  The character is fascinating, but is overshadowing the hero.  Writing instructors talk about the need to kill your darlings:  those pretty things that don’t actually serve the story.

Thankfully, we now have the internet!  Where an author can archive all the darlings to live on forever as “DVD special features” for the published version of the book.

Comments are closed.